Granada content to delay hotel sales

Gerry Robinson, chairman of Granada, the media and leisure group, yesterday gave his strongest hint yet that he was in no hurry to complete the sale of the luxury Exclusive hotel chain, despite setting a self-imposed deadline for the disposals of "early 1997".

Speaking after the company's annual general meeting Mr Robinson suggested this week's $10.5bn (pounds 6.5bn) bid in the US by Hilton Hotels for ITT, owner of the Sheraton, would strengthen his hand in negotiations: "It is a serious indication of the underlying value of hotel assets."

Mr Robinson said it was wrong to say that Granada had set a deadline of the end of this month to complete the sale of the 17 Exclusive hotels, though he hoped the disposals would be finalised by the end of March.

Shares in Granada closed 11p lower at 873p amid disappointment about the lack of progress on the sales. Speculation has grown in recent weeks that Granada was finding it difficult to find buyers for some of the "trophy" hotels, which were acquired as part of the last year's pounds 3.8bn takeover of Forte. So far only three properties in London, Paris and Barbados have been sold. But Mr Robinson insisted he was happy with the level of interest from potential buyers of the hotels. "My bet would be that over the next three or four weeks we will see a number of announcements," he told reporters.

Mr Robinson said there was buying interest in London's Grosvenor House, the largest of the Exclusive hotels, valued at between pounds 300m to pounds 400m. Granada would pay around pounds 20m to pounds 25m for a complete upgrading of Grosvenor House, including repairing the roof, he said.

Granada plans to begin to work on selling its 68 per cent stake in the Savoy hotel group only when it has sold the Exclusive hotels.

Earlier, shareholders waved through plans to introduce a long-term incentive scheme that could double a senior director's annual salary if certain criteria were met. Mr Robinson defended the scheme, saying Granada alone among Britain's top 100 quoted companies paid no bonuses to directors.

Mr Robinson also revealed that Granada, owner of regional television licences in the North-west of England and London, would be interested in taking a stake in Channel 4 if it was privatised. But he ruled out plans for Granada to sell its 10.8 per cent stake in BSkyB.